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Disasters and Climate Change- Resilience is of paramount importance

The cold Islamabad in December every year hosts dozens of senior researchers, analysts, activists and campaigners who come from across South Asia and rest of the world and share their research work and case studies on the issues facing the people of this region.

An independent think tank Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) organizes for them its annul sustainable development conference (SDC). The theme of this year’s SDC- the 15th in the series- was ‘Sustainable Development in South Asia- Shaping the future’.

Oxfam organized a special panel discussion at a session on “Building resilient nations and safer communities: Disaster Management in South Asia”. The session was attended by a large number of people from almost all the South Asian countries. The presenters and the discussants were of the view that resilience is of paramount importance in disaster management system to save more lives in the region. South Asia is prone to natural disasters that lead to social disasters too.

The focus of the session has been on mainstreaming disaster risk reduction (DRR) into development, as an outcome of a higher level political will in all the South Asian countries. This very political will can be translated into serious consideration of the risks emanating from natural hazards in the development frameworks. The mainstreaming of DRR in legislation, institutional structures, sectoral policies, budgets, project designs and impact assessment processes can ensure build resilient nations and safer communities in South Asia. This political will needs to be expressed both at country and SAARC levels.

The mainstreaming of DRR in economic, political and administrative governance can bring about a change in perception of duty bearers and vulnerable communities in terms of preparedness and can ensure implementation on disaster risk reduction plans and policies. DRR requires enforcement of building codes and safety standards, environmental risks and vulnerabilities, effective early warning system, awareness and preparedness models and practices prevalent among vulnerable communities. The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) compliant community development approach enables communities to be resilient in terms of awareness and preparedness.

“Disasters can be substantially reduced if people are well informed and motivated towards a culture of disaster prevention and resilience, which in turn requires the collection, compilation and dissemination of relevant knowledge and information on hazards, vulnerabilities and capacities..” (HFA)

The two research papers from Bangladesh and Pakistan quoted strong case studies showing as to how the vulnerable communities to floods and climate change have adapted to be resilient to disasters.

The research paper from Pakistan quotes a case study of a resilient community from Basti Lashkarpur, a village in Muzzafargarh area of Southern Punjab where Oxfam’s partner NGO Doaba Foundation mainstreamed DRR in their floods response programme. The researcher Ms Atiya Ali Kazmi during a field visit to this village got first hand account of how the self-reliant communities can proactively reduce their vulnerabilities to natural disasters. Basti Lashkarpur houses a small farming community and is sandwiched between two offshoots of River Chenab and in only accessible by boats.

The DRR mainstreaming efforts at community levels include: proper record keeping such as inventories and lists of people living in the village, hazards mapping, village vulnerability profile, economic ranking and issues and their solutions. Their preparedness programme comprises: establishment of committee for early warning and monitoring of flood situation, livestock management, agriculture risk analysis, construction of safer places at highly raised platforms.

In Basti Lashkarpur, the village disaster management plan involved both men and women in DRR activities and they were trained for their roles on technical grounds making best use of their capacities. As a result of these activities, an improved human and social capital was developed and most among them assumed their responsibility as local community leaders. The capacity building and training sessions made them confident and imparted them skills to manage any disaster situation as first responders.

The case study talks of vibrant humanitarian advocacy efforts the villagers undertook to amplify their voices at the district level line departments and to make the duty bearers accountable. The district forum of the community leaders were formed and the community leaders represented the community at appropriate level with their key advocacy messages. The community also approached their elected representatives to push them for asks and demands. The district forums emerged through a process from local level Community based organizations (CBOs) to union councils level clusters of CBOs. Women and marginalized people represented at all levels.

In Bangladesh case study, researcher Mr A. Z.M Saleh narrated as to how the farming communities have adapted to the climate change that has impacted agriculture a lot. He presented different models of innovative agriculture practices resilient to natural disasters. He said climate conditions of South Asian countries are slightly different from each other and there is need to remodel the cropping patterns. He said rainfall and temperature are two climatic variables that shape the structure of socio-ecological system and any alternation of rainfall and temperature cycle, as a result of climate change, eventually hampers agriculture production.
He suggested that we need to focus the objectives which are giving priority to adaption in agriculture that will ensure food security, seeds protection and resilient community.

Sanaullah Rustamani, from Hyderabad analyzed the damages done during last three consecutive floods that hit Sindh province. He called upon disaster management authorities to engage local community in disaster management and make them resilient. He suggested building small dams in Baluchistan to store flood water before it enters River Indus. He emphasized on the use of new technology to ensure proper drainage of floodwater so that it levels recede quickly saving hundreds of thousands at risk. Linking Hamal Lake and Mancher Lake and increasing the capacity of Main Narra Valley Drain in Sindh are important in timely drainage of water.

Irina Mosel, Technical Expert SDPI in her comments, suggested that there is a need to develop a linkage between government and community in responding to disasters. At the institutional level, the government should provide technical assistance to community so that they can save them from disasters. She also recommended focusing on rehabilitation of affected areas and called for rebuilding disaster prone houses empowering communities to be resilient against disasters in future. Improved and inclusive disaster management, infrastructure development and planning at national level and response at local level can ensure an integrated response to emergencies in the country. It would be good if the authorities include minorities, women and other marginalized groups in disaster management efforts.

Arif Jabbar, Country Director Oxfam, said mainstreaming DRR is the key area in disaster management. Since women are more vulnerable to disasters and conflict, they need to be made resilient. DRR activities at national and regional levels and sharing of best practices can ensure building resilience.


The blogger, Shafqat Munir, is Asia Regional Rights in Crisis Coordinator Oxfam.

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